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17. SYRACUSE
B.J. Schecter
August 25, 1997
The 44 thing has been talked about since Rob Konrad stepped on campus in the summer of 1995. Only 10 players had worn number 44 before Konrad, and among them were storied halfbacks Jim Brown, Ernie Davis and Floyd Little. Konrad heard the talk that he had to play well to be worthy of the number. He also knew that as a 6'3", 250-pound fullback who would block more than carry the ball, he could not possibly put up numbers that would even approach any of those great backs.
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August 25, 1997

17. Syracuse

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Returning Leaders

Passing

Donovan McNaob Jr.

118 comp., 215 att., 1,776 yds., 19 TDs

Rushing

McNabb

458 yds., 3 TDs

Receiving

Jim Turner Sr.

20 catches, 383 yds., 2 TDs

Tackles

FS Donovin Darius Sr.

93

Interceptions

CB Phil Nash Jr.

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The 44 thing has been talked about since Rob Konrad stepped on campus in the summer of 1995. Only 10 players had worn number 44 before Konrad, and among them were storied halfbacks Jim Brown, Ernie Davis and Floyd Little. Konrad heard the talk that he had to play well to be worthy of the number. He also knew that as a 6'3", 250-pound fullback who would block more than carry the ball, he could not possibly put up numbers that would even approach any of those great backs.

"I play a different position, and in our offense I'm not going to rush for 100 yards every week," says Konrad, now a junior, who carried the ball 82 times for 322 yards last season. Indeed, it is Konrad's variety of skills that makes him so valuable to the Orangemen. He is not only a bruising blocker and a solid runner but also a surprisingly reliable receiver, having hauled in nine passes last season, for an average of 15 yards per catch. The burden of wearing 44 hasn't worn him down. "It [number 44] is something people will always talk about," says Konrad, "but when you have a Heisman Trophy candidate like [quarterback] Donovan McNabb on your team, he tends to take the pressure off you."

McNabb led Syracuse in total offense last season with 2,234 yards (1,776 passing), and the 6'2", 219-pound junior will again be the Orangemen's primary weapon as they try to improve on back-to-back 9-3 seasons and make a long-shot run at the national championship. A reserve guard on the basketball team, McNabb is dangerous whenever he touches the football; he has twice been named Big East offensive player of the year.

McNabb's consistency and durability have allowed coach Paul Pasqualoni to move five quarterback recruits to other skill positions over the past three seasons. Among the latest shifts, redshirt freshman Dee Brown, a high school All-America and two-time central Florida player of the year, has been converted to tailback. "Dee is such a tremendous athlete, it would be a shame if we didn't try to utilize his abilities," says Pasqualoni. Brown's terrific showing in spring camp was good news for Syracuse: Tailback is the team's most pressing need after the departure of Malcolm Thomas, last year's leading rusher (781 yards, 10 TDs). Most of his workload will be shifted to Konrad, Brown and junior tailback Kyle McIntosh, who averaged 4.5 yards per carry last season despite nursing a sore right knee.

Seven starters are gone from a defense that ranked 10th nationally. Senior Antwaune Ponds (four sacks against West Virginia last season) is a big-play linebacker, but the secondary was weakened by graduation. Syracuse lost All-America cornerback Kevin Abrams and strong safety Anthony Walker, leaving only senior safety Donovin Darius and senior cornerback Rod Gadson. The starting defense may include two sophomores and a freshmen.

"With so many holes to fill on defense, we can't waste time waiting for the young guys to mature," says Pasqualoni. "We are going to need them right away."

[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

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